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Homelessness and Supporting People Network feature – Shared objective

Shared objective

Ian Jones explains how Vale of Glamorgan Council is preparing for the challenges of implementing the Housing Act

After what has felt like an eternity we have now come to terms with the reality that the new act will be in place in less than seven months, and have accepted that there is likely to be significant increase in people presenting themselves as homeless across Wales. local authorities should by now have re-considered how effective their homelessness prevention services are, engaged with stakeholders and service providers, and considered what resources they will be need to have available.

The Vale of Glamorgan Council established very quickly that the initial priority would be to radically reduce our 15-year dependence upon bed and breakfast accommodation, having spent as much as £500,000 per year.

Work started early in the summer of 2012 and by the end of August we had moved our last family into alternative accommodation. Gradually, through the excellent relationship we had forged with the private rented sector and one of our RSL partners via the Vale Assisted Tenancy (VAT) scheme we introduced in 2004, we were able to develop a number of successful shared accommodation options. By December 2013 the council was no longer reliant on B&Bs, amounting to a saving of £400,000.

At the same time we also reconfigured the homelessness service, redirecting all staff resources within the housing advice team towards prevention. This not only helped with prevention, but also provided residents of the Vale with a more customer-focused service, having an allocated staff member for the duration of their homelessness journey.

Even with the successes described above, including the introduction of a social lettings agency through CanDo Lettings, our access into the private rented sector, whilst it met many of our alternative accommodation demands and prevention needs, didn’t address the gap for single households, particularly those under 35, and despite our best efforts this continues to be a problem.

Securing private rented accommodation

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to secure private rented accommodation even for our potentially low risk families with all letting agencies operating across the Vale insisting on a guarantor. The impact of welfare reform and a demand for rented accommodation has led to some potential buyers being unable the owner occupied market. As a result the Vale has realised that the ‘word of mouth’ approach that the current VAT scheme uses is not going to be able to meet the demands of the new prevention duty.

We have recently unpicked the VAT scheme and, with the aid of the toolkits produced by Andy Gale, rejuvenated it into a very professional comprehensive private landlord lettings guide covering four areas of the market we need to expand into: private landlords, letting agencies, HMOs and lodgings and lodgers.

Our advertising campaign to re- launch our new and improved VAT Scheme starts shortly and will initially focus on attracting landlords directly to the service, promoting the excellent financial deals and guarantees on offer. Following this we will be expanding our advertising to attract valued letting agencies who we have worked closely with for so many years.

The information packs we have designed also include a guide for landlords and letting agents on how to minimise the risk of housing benefit overpayments. Guidance, crib notes, rent guarantee risk assessments and implementation training have also been developed specifically for staff directly involved in private sector expansion work.

Key internal partners

It is also important to acknowledge that the VAT scheme could not work  to its full potential without the support of key internal partners, the council’s environmental health and housing benefit teams, and the vital service and support they provide. These areas of expertise are essential from the outset with any private sector offer to ensure any statements can be met and we are very fortunate in the Vale to have excellent working relationships with these departments.

Finally, earlier this year we secured Welsh Government funding to carry out a feasibility study into developing a housing advice hub. Following a stakeholder event there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the idea of developing a housing advice one-stop-shop, which is seen by all as being an essential service for addressing the housing needs of residents in the future.

The shared objective is for a one-stop- shop to include the current housing options service and possibly housing benefit, RSLs and key third sector organisations. For now the broad working title chosen by stakeholders is the housing futures service.

Ian Jones is homelessness and housing advice manager at Vale of Glamorgan council

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